ST. LOUIS >> Facing elimination in an oh-so-hostile environment, Tuukka Rask and Brad Marchand stepped up for the Boston Bruins once again.
The Stanley Cup Final is heading to Game 7 because two of Boston’s biggest stars love the biggest moments.
Rask made 28 saves, Marchand had a goal and an assist, and the Bruins beat the St. Louis Blues 5-1 tonight to even the bruising, physical final at three games apiece.
David Pastrnak had one of Boston’s four goals in the third period and an assist, helping the Bruins force the 17th Game 7 in Stanley Cup history. Brandon Carlo, Karson Kuhlman and Zdeno Chara also scored.
“We’re fighting for our lives obviously,” Marchand said. “When you play desperate, I think you see everyone’s best game.”
Boston also was involved in the final’s last Game 7, winning the championship at Vancouver in 2011. Rask was a reserve goaltender on that team eight years ago, while Marchand was a key performer. They will go for another championship Wednesday night in Boston after losing to Chicago in the 2013 final.
“The whole hockey world loves a Game 7, so it should be a great night in Boston and may the best team win,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said.
Ryan O’Reilly scored in the third period for St. Louis, which is looking for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title in its 51st season. Rookie Jordan Binnington finished with 27 stops.
“We have to move on, get ready for the next one,” O’Reilly said. “We’re confident. We’re a great road team. Maybe that’s our story. Maybe we have to get it done on the road.”
Backed by an electric Enterprise Center crowd that included actors Jon Hamm and Jenna Fischer and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, wearing a No. 49 Blues jersey in honor of suspended forward Ivan Barbashev, St. Louis looked a step off for most of the game. Prime scoring opportunities were derailed by misplaced passes or ever-so-slight timing issues.
Of course, the unflappable Rask can have that effect on a team. And whenever the Blues threatened, the 6-foot-3 Finnish star was there.
“He’s our best player,” Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy said. “He just steps up when it matters and we have all the faith in the world in him. … He’s our rock.”
Rask was at his best while Boston killed off four power plays, dropping St. Louis to 1 for 18 with the man advantage for the series. He smothered a big Colton Parayko slap shot with Chara in the box near the end of the first period, and made a fancy glove stop on an even-strength try for Brayden Schenn 7:42 in the second.
He got some help after Marchand was whistled for tripping Alex Pietrangelo midway through the second. With the Blues applying heavy pressure in search of the tying goal, Pietrangelo had a backhand go off the left post and Rask’s back before McAvoy knocked the puck out of the way out of midair.
“We weathered the storm pretty good,” Rask said.
While St. Louis came up empty on the power play, Boston used a 5-on-3 advantage to jump in front in the first. With Schenn and O’Reilly in the box, Marchand beat Binnington with a sharp-angled shot from the right circle at 8:40.
It was Marchand’s first goal since he got an empty-netter in Boston’s 4-2 victory in Game 1. The Bruins improved to 25-1 when the pesky veteran scores in the postseason.
“We knew that again the start was going to be key and that they were going to give us a push early and to manage that and play well and take care of details and obviously capitalize on our chances,” Boston center Patrice Bergeron said.
Marchand and company then put it away in the third.
First, Jake DeBrusk won a board battle with Pietrangelo to set up Carlo’s bouncing shot that went off Binnington’s arm for the defenseman’s second career playoff goal. Then Kuhlman, a rookie who was in the lineup in place of former Blues captain David Backes, made it 3-0 with a well-placed wrist shot at 10:15.
After O’Reilly supplied some hope for St. Louis when he was awarded a goal after a review by the officials, Marchand found Pastrnak in front and the winger put a slick move on Binnington to make it 4-1 on 14:06.
Chara, playing with a broken jaw, added an empty-netter with 2:19 left. The crowd chanted “Let’s Go Blues!” in the final moments, hoping to give St. Louis a boost for its trip to Boston.
“Listen, if you told me four months ago we were going to be in the finals in Game 7, I think I’d take it,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “We’ve been a good road team. We’ve won twice up there in this series, so we’re a confident group.”
NOTES: Boston is hosting Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history. … The Bruins improved to 13-3 when they score first in the playoffs. … Barbashev was suspended for one game for an illegal check to the head of Boston forward Marcus Johansson during Game 5.